Replacing QTS with accreditation will be a disaster

24 October 2016 by ATL
Bolstered by the National Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee, the voices of the sector have finally been heard by government, which has finally acknowledged the teacher recruitment and retention crisis.

Which should be a cause for jubilation… shouldn’t it?

Unfortunately not. This government is not renowned for taking an evidence-based approach to policy and their recent White and Green Papers have proved to be no exception.  While I leave the joy of discussing the extension of grammar school selection to other colleagues and another day, we mustn’t forget one of the most significant, if not the loudest, proposals in the White Paper: that of replacing Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) with accreditation.

At a time when those considering study and career options face huge tuition fees in an economic context which often calls for career and professional flexibility, the proposal to replace a well-known and understood qualification like QTS, which has currency across the UK and overseas, with a localised, school-based accreditation and quality assurance system is hugely risky.  Likely to result in an increasing range of interpretations of the teacher standards, value can be compromised, and the local nature undermines broader recognition and portability of the ‘qualification’.

I know policy tourism can be risky, but I can’t help noting that high performing education systems like Shanghai, Finland, Singapore, Germany and many others involve university-led and awarded programmes of teacher professional education which result in qualifications at Bachelor and Masters’ levels.  The school element of the training in these countries is vital; it’s about partnerships which make the best of the unique characteristics of each partner.

That’s one of the key issues with this government’s policy around initial teacher education over the past few years; it’s failure to recognise the importance of those partnerships between higher education institutions (HEIs) and schools and of the key role that each plays.  By myopically pursuing a policy of school-led initial teacher education, they are weakening the capacity of many HEIs to continue to offer teacher training, while overloading schools who are already struggling with teacher shortages, increasing student rolls, curriculum changes… well, I’m sure you know all this.

Which begs the question, why would headteachers wish to take on the responsibility (and workload) of teacher accreditation?  The answer is that many don’t. Some may see an opportunity to extend the pathway to accreditation in their schools, thus locking new teachers into their schools for longer periods of time, potentially on lower pay. With the huge pressures on school budgets and the dire need to retain teachers, this is a very real risk.

If accreditation does replace QTS, and the pathway extends for longer than the current study and induction periods, there is also a real worry about the impact on the workload of colleagues, who can be expected to support and mentor those on the accreditation route. The recent EPI report on teacher workload found that nearly half of teachers in our schools have been teaching for less than 10 years which means a big gap in the normal pool of confident and experienced mentors, and a resulting heightening of pressure on those remaining, many of whom can be quite new in their careers and struggling with already high workloads and additional responsibilities.

What do we need to see for those joining the profession?  Well, we have some strong and indeed good recommendations, informed by evidence from ATL and others in the profession, in the reports from the working groups around the content of teacher training, including behaviour, mentoring standards and CPD.  Maybe we do need a longer route to more fully equip our new teachers for should be an incredibly rewarding career but this needs proper funding – very few can afford to easily take up an additional year of education.

We need a continuum of professional development based on entitlement, from initial stages, including early professional development and continuing onwards throughout teachers’ careers, based on a career path with opportunities which can attract and retain teachers.  And we need a qualification which will give teachers choices, ensuring that some of those choices are attractive enough to keep them here, having rewarding careers in our schools and colleges.

By Alison Ryan, Senior Policy Adviser at ATL.

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